Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands. It regulates blood pressure and regulates the body’s use of macronutrients. Cortisol also affects the release of insulin release and your body’s ability to convert sugars into energy.
Typically, cortisol levels peak in the morning, and is at its lowest level in the middle of the night. At natural, healthy levels, cortisol provides sustained energy and even improves memory. In stressful situations, extra cortisol is released to provide an immediate, easy-to-use energy supply. While this reaction is helpful in life-or-death situations, it actually becomes harmful when it occurs in response to minor everyday stresses like traffic and bills. Chronic stress, over-working, and insufficient sleep cause a chronic excess of cortisol, which is harmful in the short-term and life-threatening in the long-term.
What are the drawbacks of too much cortisol?
Most modern-day stresses are mental or emotional—not truly life-threatening. The result of a week’s worth of minor conflicts is a body under constant stress. This provides a few immediate complications:
- Suppressed thyroid function.
- Lowered immune response.
- Imbalanced blood sugar.
Over the course of a lifetime, excess cortisol is associated with far more damaging effects:
- Loss of muscle mass, which also slows your metabolism.
- Chronically increased blood sugar, which increases appetite, cravings for harmful sweets, and can lead to insulin resistance (a precursor of type 2 diabetes).
- Accumulation of body fat from stress-eating due to an overstimulated appetite. Stress-eating tends to add fat around the abdomen. Belly fat is linked to metabolic syndrome: a group of risk factors linked with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.